Posted by: darcymullin | March 30, 2012

A Principal’s Role

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the role of principal, or more specifically my role ensuring that students in my building get the best education possible – no small task.  My job is fraught with terms that have all kinds of loaded meaning…educational leader, change agent, supervision for learning.  One the surface and most literal level I have a clear understanding of what those terms mean, but on the deeper level these are terms that are very complex and contextually driven.

Educational Leader

I think a principal can function without being an educational leader if they are willing to do whatever it takes to promote and develop educational leadership within your school.  However, to be highly effective I think principals need to collaboratively develop an educational vision within your school.  A vision that is not developed in isolation, but over time and involves all the stakeholders in your building.  Principal’s can steer this conversation, but they should not drive this conversation, that said we need to be cognizant of the important trends in teaching and learning so that we are able to steer the vision in the appropriate direction.  Steering the vision involves listening, asking questions and synthesizing information.   A compelling vision is not developed in a vacuum.

Change Agent

To be honest this is a term I really despise.  The idea that schools must change implies that there is something seriously wrong with current practice.  In some schools this may be the case, but I can say with the highest degree of certainty this is not the school I work in, nor is it common to any school I have ever worked in.  As a principal, my role is that to be a Progress Agent.  I want the educators in our school to continue to be progressive and refine their craft.  I want them to be reflective and engage in meaningful professional dialogue and learning.  I am lucky enough to work at a school where this occurs without me, so my role is just to continue to support and be a part of the conversation.  Being part of the conversation is essential in order to continue to keep the school’s vision in mind and remain aware of how it might need to develop as our school continues to progress.

Supervision for Learning

I know this is a popular and somewhat polarizing topic right now (well in BC anyway) and honestly it is not one I am real fond of either.  On the surface it is simple – as the principal I informally observe teachers in action and then engage in some dialogue about what I saw and even offer some feedback and steps for improvement.

Simple right?  Not really.

The problem I have it is that it is too presumptive, particularly in my context.  First, it is based on the fact that because of my role I have all the answers on how to improve practice.   Second, it is essentially a one way conversations.  Finally, it is guided by the assumption that I couldn’t learn from somebody else.  While I have significant teaching experience and strive to continually improve what I am doing in the classroom, I am not so naive to think that I am the greatest teacher in the world.  I don’t have all the answers.  If I did, every kid I teach would be reading at or above grade level and everyone would be exceeding expectations – clearly not the case (in anyone’s classroom).  I would like to reframe the Supervision for Learning idea (model?) as a Collaborative Learning model, one where not only the principal, but teachers have the opportunity to visit classrooms on a regular basis and then have an opportunity to talk about what they saw.  I see it as a questioning/listening/learning process where the conversation is uni-directional.

The more time I spend thinking about it, the more I realize the principal doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the world and have all the answers.  As progressive educators don’t we often minimize the role of  “Sage on the Stage”. Principals need to listen, be attune to their staff and students and set the conditions where a school can be a state of continual progress.

Obviously, this is only a small sampling, so what do you think the role of principal should be?



  1. Thanks Darcy. Another insightful post. I have often thought of leadership as a balance between courage (the ability to act in challenging times) and self-doubt (the ability tp question one’s actions). You have found that balance with this post. I especially like the reframing of change agent to progress agent and will use that going forward.

  2. Thanks Tom. I agree, courage to do what’s right is important. Oftentimes, what is right is not what is easy. I like the concept of self doubt, questioning our actions (and motives) is important as we move forward. Thanks for taking the time to post.

  3. Here is a quote from a blog I just posted

    Instructional coaches and staff developers as teacher leaders need to be building continuing partnerships with principals and developing the leadership capacity of other staff members. Principals need to be continually supporting the leadership skills of everyone


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